In Their Own Words: Starting the Program

Photo by Brock Badgers
Photo by Brock Badgers

Jeffrey Gould, Fourth Year, Brock Badgers Tennis

Ever since I was young, sports had always been “my thing.”  I started playing tennis at the age of eight but it had never been my favourite sport. Growing up in a typical Canadian household, hockey had always been the sport of choice. After starting to play more hockey and with competitive baseball added into the mix at age thirteen, I dropped tennis altogether thinking that baseball would take up too much time and tennis just wasn’t worth it anymore.

I later realized, though, that this was a huge mistake and that I could do both at the same time. I picked up the racquet again and began taking tennis more seriously than I had before. By the time I had reached university, I had taken my tennis game to a whole new level. I played in multiple tennis tournaments throughout the grade 11 and 12 years with the Ontario Tennis Association as well as within the Donalda Club, where I grew up playing. However, after choosing to enroll in the Brock Sport Management program in February 2015, tennis was, once again, not on my mind.

I knew that Sport Management was the perfect program for me and that Brock had quite the impressive baseball team for which I wanted to play. That summer, however, I suffered a severe ankle injury and, by the time I could run again, it was tryout time. I still couldn’t run at full speed, let alone slide anymore. With baseball out of the picture, I once again turned my attention back to tennis.

I had played intramural tennis in the fall semester of my first year; however, it just wasn’t the same. There were those who were good tennis players and could compete, but also those who could barely hold a racquet. I needed something more.

Toward the end of the semester, I emailed the athletic department asking how I could set up a Brock tennis team.  I was extremely fortunate that, just a couple weeks prior, our amazing, current head coach, Scott Hurtubise, had emailed the exact same question.

We met up after the winter break, not even knowing what each other looked like. We sat down to figure out how this was all going to be possible. After stacks of paperwork and multiple meetings with the athletic department, we were officially deemed a Brock University team as of February, 2016. After selecting both a men’s and women’s roster, the firsts in around 10 years and 25 years, respectively, I was named the first Brock tennis captain since 2005.

Being a captain in the first year of my university experience and even in my second year was an extremely exciting, but also challenging endeavour. I had the leadership abilities, the organizational skills, and the competitive drive to captain a team, but in some circumstances, I was “leading” guys that were older than me. It was a difficult thing to wrap my head around and become comfortable with, but I can definitely say that I’ve become accustomed to it now. In fact, my current doubles partner, Gianluca, is seven years older than me.

“The number of kinks that had to be ironed out along the way was uncountable.”

We are a small team and I think that people don't understand the obstacles that come with being an athlete, let alone captain, of a new, small squad. The number of kinks that had to be ironed out along the way was uncountable. You’re never really sure what’s going to work in terms of practice times, lineups, and balancing school and athletics. You need to figure out how you’re going to have enough money to possibly train indoors during the winter, while also having enough money and time to get uniforms by the season opener. 

“It took a lot of teamwork, a lot of patience, and a ton of extra work…”

We were lucky to have started the team in the offseason. We had time, therefore, between February and September to figure all of these things out. But it took a lot of teamwork, a lot of patience, and a ton of extra work during the summer for myself and our coaching staff. You also can’t expect many – if any – fans to come out to support your matches. Momentum and confidence have to always come from your teammates and from within. It’s a weird atmosphere to be in because you are in a “team sport” but, on court, you’re playing as an individual.

In my second year, our season consisted of two to three indoor evening practices per week, as well as one home match versus Carleton University. Although we lost that match by a tight margin, it was a great, new experience for me to actually go up against another school.

The intensity level in university sport and the pressure that comes with it are very different from provincial tennis; something I was expecting, but not fully prepared for. It was also an amazing experience for me because I was able to get my first career singles win at the university level in front of my parents and all of my teammates. It was really one of those moments I know I will never forget.

Unfortunately, our season was limited with no OUAs as we were a new team and, therefore, our athletic department did not allow us to participate until we could prove sustainable and competitive. We did, however, later that year get approval from Brock to enter into OUAs the follow year in the 2017-18 season.

Fast forward to the week before tryouts of my third year and I was faced with another obstacle that, eventually, would not allow me to compete at OUAs: a torn meniscus. Some people understand how much sports mean to people, while others don’t. It’s just how it is. But, at that moment when I was told I was going to need surgery and there was only a five per cent chance that I would play at the OUAs, I was devastated. I didn’t care what the doctors or my parents had to say. That was the first thing that ran through my mind. I wasn’t going to be able to play in our first OUA competition since 2005 after I helped build this program back up again.

But still, as captain, I had to be there for 7:00am practice every day (our practice times changed), watching from the sidelines as all my friends trained for our matches. I had to be there at every match, hobbling around at a very slow pace to make it from court to court and cheer on my teammates.

I look back at it now and I am extremely appreciative of the incomparable moral support that was shown to me by teammates throughout this whole adventure. Even after, as I embarked on my exchange during the offseason to Australia, two letters were written to me by rookies for the plane ride, explaining and thanking me for how much I had done for them over the course of the season, which literally brought me to tears on the airplane.

I have since pushed through the injury, the constant pain, the recovery, and the daily soreness in my quads, hamstrings, calves, and hip flexors caused by the surgery.  I can honestly say I’ve come back stronger and with newfound purpose. Our team, knowing that we can compete, has ramped up training to twice a day: in the morning and at night. They are long days and finding the balance between practice, fourth-year schoolwork, and trying to go to the gym is difficult at times, but I wouldn’t want it any other way.

“…I was going to make this my year to compete at the OUA Championships.”

With the season being so short and having to get in form right away, you have to practice multiple times a day to get in enough hits. I made a promise to myself before this season that I was going to set my expectations extremely high, that I was going to work my butt off day in and day out for this team and support my teammates along the way, and that I was going to make this my year to compete at the OUA Championships. 

Whether this is my one and only OUA Tennis Championships or my first of a couple more, I am over the moon to finally be able to represent Brock University and my team at this event. When the time comes, it’s going to be tough to leave the program I was so formative in restarting, but it’s extremely satisfying knowing that others will have the opportunity to represent Brock for many more years to come.